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Do Effects of Early Child Care Extend to Age 15 Years? Results From the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development

While high-quality child care was predictive of greater pre-academic skills, children who spent more time in non-parental child care, especially in center-type care, tended to have more behavior problems that continued into adolescence.

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  • N: 1,364
  • Subject Ages: Birth to 4.5 years and 15 years
  • Location: United States, 10 locations
  • SES: 21% had incomes no greater than 200% of the poverty level
  • Eligibility: Children at birth through age 4 1/2, to be followed up with as adolescents


  1. Non-relative child care during the first 4 1/2 years of life predicts academic achievement and behaviors adjustment at age 15.
  2. Links between early child care and adolescent outcomes are moderated by child gender or familial risk.

Variables Measured, Instruments Used

  • Child care characteristics - telephone and in-home interviews at three-month intervals until 36 months and four-month intervals until 4.5 years.
  • Quality of care - the ORCE at intervals of 6, 15, 24, 36 and 54 months.
  • Adolescent functioning -
    • cognitive academic achievement: the Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery-Revised
    • risk-taking: audio computer-assisted self-interview
    • impulsivity: eight-item questionnaire taken from the Weinberger Adjustment Inventory
    • externalizing problems: youth self report
  • Maternal, child, family, and school controls -
    • maternal education, child gender, child race and ethnicity, the proportion of epochs throughout the 4 1/2 years that the mother reported a husband or partner was present, family income, maternal Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test Revised, maternal psychological adjustment, NEO Personality Inventory, maternal depressive symptoms: Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale,   early-parenting quality
  • Child functioning in early and middle childhood -
    • cognitive academic achievement: WJ-R Letter-Word Identification & Broad Reading, applied problems and picture vocabulary
    • externalizing behaviors: the Teacher Report Form (TRF; Achenbach, 1991b) completed by teachers




  1. At 4 1/2 years, higher quality care predicted higher levels of pre-academic skills and language, and more exposure to center-type care predicted better language and memory. Early child care quality continues to predict cognitive-academic achievement ten years after the child has left child care.
  2. The cognitive academic benefits of child care quality found at 4 1/2 years carried through middle childhood and were associated with adolescent functioning.
  3. At 4 1/2 years of age, children who were in child care for more hours a day and had more center-type care showed more externalizing behaviors. This remained true at age 15. Higher hours of care predicted reports by adolescents of greater risk-taking and impulsivity.


  • Study design is correlational, not experimental; therefore, the analysis was a test of association, not causation.
  • It is possible that excluded variables may account for the obtained effects.
  • The study was not nationally representative.